Speechy Speech

I just appeared at the Atlantic Book Fair. It’s a small convention for the maritimes provinces booksellers, publishers and authors, and also for the major publishers who send their sales reps out this a way.
My only previous experience was BEA in New York for my first book, where I wandered around in a daze, signed a multitude of books, and collapsed at the end of it.
This was slightly smaller but infinitely more welcoming.
The evening consisted of cocktails, dinner and then author speeches and readings (and more cocktails. Also dessert).
In fact, let me announce here, that the Prince George Hotel in Halifax Nova Scotia has delicious food and the best bread pudding I have ever eaten.
My fabulous Scholastic sales rep Cathy pressed wine upon me, introduced me to everyone (and whispered their names in my ear when I immediately forgot who was who) and ushered me to the podium with an intro which made me blush.
I had a speech already written. It was heavy on the bio/inspiration/writing process and lighter on the reading. I used to be a bookseller and I know that sometimes the plots all blur together and only the faint memory of the author remains at the end of the evening. And I’m not talking about the drunken author on the table.
I went last.
It occurred to me somewhere around the bottom of my glass of wine and during the 2nd author speech, that
a) I do best talking in a free-form ramble
b) my written speech was a little stiff
c) that I had never spoken to a roomful of nothing but adults before
d) that the YA author who went first stole my clever intro and
e) there was a microphone.
By the time I took the stage, the audience was looking a little goggle-eyed. This may have been a combination of liberally-poured wine, authors talky-talking, and the warm temperature of the room.
I clutched my papers and my ARC and thought furiously for all of the twenty steps it took me to cross the floor.
I usually do not prepare much. Probably I did for my first reading. But for every subsequent one, I’ve realized it sounds fresher and flows easier if I just figure out my first sentence and let go. So I scrapped the written speech.

Now I had figured out my first sentence but see d).

Instead I asked the audience jokingly if they would sit on the floor as if they were kids, talked about how I felt like a sneak-thief since I am a recent transplant to Nova Scotia from NY, and not so smoothly segued to adventure stories, feisty heroines, tsunamis, hemorrhagic small pox, and my love for scientific think-tanks.
It was sprawling, it was tangential, it was rambling. I probably said ‘umm’ too many times and the mic picked them all up and echoed them around the room.
I read just enough of the first chapter to leave them hungering for more, and then I stepped off my soap box and signed books. And had another glass of wine.

I’ll tell you.
I think after countless readings and workshops and clever introductory speeches to readers, kids and a smattering of guardians and parents, that I tend to over complicate it all.
What I have learned.
a) make them laugh. Even if only a little.
b) whatever you talk about, make sure you are passionate about it.
c) keep it short.
d) figure out an angle or a starting point, maybe a little anecdote, and then wing it from there.
e) I should not worry about having too little to say because I always have enough to say.
Do you have any tricks for informal public speaking?

10 thoughts on “Speechy Speech

  1. Kath, I would love to talk with you (if I can keep up). You should come to NS and research the MiqMaq history around here and then you can stay with us.

  2. Oh! I so wish I could have been there. I would probably have sat down on the ground when you suggested it and embarrassed us both. I have a variety of events coming up (no actual speeches though, thank goodness, I don’t think I could handle the pressure) and this was very helpful to read. The only time I took the stage after one (ok, maybe two) drinks was in a play/performance piece. I wore the wrong costume for the wrong entrance. At least for readings I don’t have to worry about that!

  3. Oh Cat, I hope you at least wear a beret for your reading! I find readings fun cause the intro is short short short but this time it was switched and I found it hard to talk about myself for 8 minutes.

  4. So glad it went well!! I always prepare something, even if I end up not using it. Sort of like having a map, but being ready to go off-road if the occasion calls for it!

  5. How nerve racking…but it sounds like you did great. I always feel nervous when I get up to speak in front if a crowd, but people almost always say it went well (but then, it’s not like most people would tell me “That was bloody awful!”) Oddly, I hardly ever remember the experience in great detail…kind of like getting in a car wreck–my mind seems to protect itself from itself 🙂

    1. Oh me too, Becky.I get nervous up until the last minute and I can never remember what I end up talking about really. I fear the day when someone will catch it on camera because then my ramblings will become evident. I do know that if I am not so scripted , I am much more animated and enthusiastic and that seems like a good pay-off even if I end up speaking tangentially.
      Thanks for commenting!

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